folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 155
translated and/or edited by
D. L. Ashliman
A crocodile beseeched a Brahman to carry it to Benares, so it could live in the Ganges. Touched with compassion, the Brahman put the crocodile into his bag and carried it to the holy river. However, just as he was about to release the crocodile into the water, the latter seized him, and was about to kill him. The Brahman accused his captor of ingratitude, who in turn replied that virtue and custom allowed one to eat the person who had sustained him. The Brahman insisted that three impartial judges should decide the case, and declared himself willing to abide by their decision.
They turned first to a mango tree, whom the Brahman asked if it were permitted to repay a good deed with evil. The mango tree replied that such was the treatment he and his kind always received from humans. "They partake of our fruits and of our shade, and then uproot us," it said.
Next they turned to an old cow. She too said that humans had abandoned her after she was of no more use to them. Any moment she expected to fall prey to a wild animal.
They still needed a third judgment, and for this they turned to a fox. He too seemed inclined against the Brahman, but before finalizing his decision, he wanted to see how the two had journeyed together. To demonstrate, the unsuspecting crocodile crept back into the Brahman's bag. Acting on a cue from the fox, the Braham struck the now helpless crocodile dead with a stone, and the fox ate it up.
A camel driver, crossing the plains, stopped to rest where a caravan had halted and built a fire the night before; in the morning they had moved on before it had died out. As the night wind arose, it fanned the sparks and soon set all the brushwood around on fire. In the midst of the brushwood lay coiled an adder, fast asleep. The flames, however, soon awoke him, but not until he was completely encircled by the fire. He was about to despair of his life, when he saw the camel driver and called upon him for aid. At first the camel driver hesitated, for he remembered the poisonous sting of the adder. Still, he could not bear to see any living creature suffer, so he promised to help the adder. He had a bag beneath his saddle. This he now drew forth and tied to the end of his spear. He then reached it over into the midst of the burning brush; the adder crawled inside, and the camel driver drew him safely out of the fire.
"Now go your way," said the camel driver, loosening the neck of the bag so that the adder could glide out. "Only remember the kindness which I have shown to you, and do you hereafter be kind to men in your turn."
"I confess," replied the adder, slipping out on the ground, "that you have been kind to me, and yet I shall not go away until I have stung both you and your camel. I only leave it to you to decide whether I shall sting you first or the camel."
"What a monster of ingratitude you are!" cried the camel driver. "Is it right to return evil for good?"
Such is the custom of men," said the adder.
"You are not only ungrateful, but untruthful as well," the camel driver made reply. "It would be hard indeed for you to prove these words of yours. There is no other creature in the world, I venture to say, who will agree with you. If you can find out one other, I will allow you to sting me."
"Very well," responded the adder; "let us put the question to yonder cow."
The cow stopped chewing her cud. "If you mean what is man's custom," she began, in answer to their question, "I must answer to my sorrow that he is wont to repay evil for good. For many years I have been the faithful servant of a farmer. Every day I have supplied him with milk to drink and rich cream for his butter. Now I am old and no longer able to serve him. So he has put me out in this pasture that I may grow fat, and only yesterday he brought the butcher to see me. Tomorrow I am to be sold for beef. Surely this is repaying my kindness with evil."
"You see," said the adder to the camel driver, "that what I said is true. Get ready for me to sting you. Shall it be you or the camel first?"
"Hold," replied the camel driver. "In court a decree is not passed without the testimony of two witnesses. Bring another witness, and if he agrees with the cow, you may do with me as you please."
The adder looked about him and saw that they were standing beneath a huge palm tree. "Let us put the question to the tree," he said.
When the palm had heard their question, he shook his great branches sadly. "Experience has taught me," he moaned, "that for every favor you do to men, you must expect some injury in return. I stand here in the desert, doing harm to none and good to many. Every traveler who comes by can rest beneath my shade. I bear dates for his refreshment, and gladly give my sap to quench his thirst. Yet when the traveler has eaten and slept beneath my shade, he looks up into my branches and says to himself, 'That branch would make me a good cane, or handle for my ax,' or 'What splendid wood there is in this tree! I must cut off a limb to make some new doors for my house.' And I must consent to this without a murmur. Thus is my kindness returned by men."
"The two witnesses have now testified," spoke the adder, "and agree. Which shall I bite first, you or the camel?"
But just at that moment a fox ran by, and the camel driver pleaded that they might hear one more testimony. The adder was so pleased with what the cow and the tree had said, that he readily agreed to listen to the fox.
When the camel driver had finished telling the whole tale to the fox, the fox laughed out loud. "You seem to be a clever fellow," he replied to the camel driver. "Why do you tell me such a falsehood?"
"Indeed, he is telling you nothing but the truth," the adder hastened to assure the fox.
Again the fox laughed outright. "Do you mean to tell me," he asked scornfully, "that such a large adder as you could possibly get into such a small bag?"
"If you do not believe it, I will crawl in again and show you," answered the adder.
"Well," responded the fox, thoughtfully, "if I see you in there with my own eyes, then I will consent to give my answer to your question."
The camel driver straightway held the bag open, and the adder crept in and coiled up in the bottom.
"Be quick now," cried the fox, "and draw the string. Any creature so lacking in gratitude as this adder deserves nothing but death."
Once upon a time a Brahman, who was walking along the road, came upon an iron cage, in which a great tiger had been shut up by the villagers who caught him.
As the Brahman passed by, the tiger called out and said to him, "Brother Brahman, brother Brahman, have pity on me, and let me out of this cage for one minute only, to drink a little water, for I am dying of thirst."
The Brahman answered, "No, I will not; for if I let you out of the cage you will eat me."
"O father of mercy," answered the tiger, "in truth that will not. I will never be so ungrateful. Only let me out, that I may drink some water and return."
Then the Brahman took pity on him, and opened the cage door; but no sooner had he done so than the tiger, jumping out, said, "Now, I will eat you first, and drink the water afterwards."
But the Brahman said, "Only do not kill me hastily. Let us first ask the opinion of six, and if all of them say it is just and fair that you should put me to death, then I am willing to die."
"Very well," answered the tiger, "it shall be as you say. We will first ask the opinion of six."
So the Brahman and the tiger walked on till they came to a banyan tree; and the Brahman said to it, "Banyan tree, banyan tree, hear and give judgment."
"On what must I give judgment ?" asked the banyan tree.
"This tiger," said the Brahman," begged me to let him out of his cage to drink a little water, and he promised not to hurt me if I did so. But now that I have let him out he wishes to eat me. Is it just that he should do so, or no?"
The banyan tree answered, "Men often come to take refuge in the cool shade under my boughs from the scorching rays of the sun; but when they have rested, they cut and break my pretty branches, and wantonly scatter the leaves that sheltered them. Let the tiger eat the man, for men are an ungrateful race."
At these words the tiger would have instantly killed the Brahman; but the Brahman said, "Tiger, tiger, you must not kill me yet, for you promised that we should first hear the judgment of six."
"Very well," said the tiger, and they went on their way. After a little while they met a camel.
"Sir camel, sir camel," cried the Brahman, "hear and give judgment."
"On what shall I give judgment?" asked the camel.
And the Brahman related how the tiger had begged him to open the cage door, and promised not to eat him if he did so; and how he had afterwards determined to break his word, and asked if that were just or not.
The camel replied, "When I was young and strong, and could do much work, my master took care of me and gave me good food; but now that I am old, and have lost all my strength in his service, he overloads me, and starves me, and beats me without mercy. Let the tiger eat the man, for men are an unjust and cruel race."
The tiger would then have killed the Brahman, but the latter said, "Stop, tiger, for we must first hear the judgment of six."
So they both went again on their way. At a little distance they found a bullock lying by the roadside.
The Brahman said to him, "Brother bullock, brother bullock, hear and give judgment."
"On what must I give judgment?" asked the bullock.
The Brahman answered, "I found this tiger in a cage, and he prayed me to open the door and let him out to drink a little water, and promised not to kill me if I did so; but when I had let him out he resolved to put me to death. Is it fair he should do so or not?"
The bullock said, "When I was able to work, my master fed me well and tended me carefully, but now I am old he has forgotten all I did for him, and left me by the roadside to die. Let the tiger eat the man, for men have no pity."
Three out of the six had given judgment against the Brahman, but still he did not lose all hope, and determined to ask the other three.
They next met an eagle flying through the air, to whom the Brahman cried, "O eagle, great eagle, hear and give judgment."
"On what must I give judgment?" asked the eagle.
The Brahman stated the case, but the eagle answered, "Whenever men see me they try to shoot me; they climb the rocks and steal away my little ones. Let the tiger eat the man, for men are the persecutors of the earth."
Then the tiger began to roar, and said, "The judgment of all is against you, O Brahman!"
But the Brahman answered, "Stay yet a little longer, for two others must first be asked"
After this they saw an alligator, and the Brahman related the matter to him, hoping for a more favorable verdict.
But the alligator said, "Whenever I put my nose out of the water, men torment me, and try to kill me. Let the tiger eat the man, for as long as men live we shall have no rest."
The Brahman gave himself up as lost; but once more he prayed the tiger to have patience, and to let him ask the opinion of the sixth judge. Now the sixth was a jackal.
The Brahman again told his story, and said to him, "Mama jackal, mama jackal, say what is your judgment?"
The jackal answered, "It is impossible for me to decide who is in the right and who in the wrong, unless I see the exact position in which you were when the dispute began. Show me the place."
So the Brahman and the tiger returned to the place where they first met, and the jackal went with them.
When they got there, the jackal said, "Now, Brahman, show me exactly where you stood."
"Here," said the Brahman, standing by the iron tiger cage.
"Exactly there, was it?" asked the jackal.
"Exactly here," replied the Brahman.
"Where was the tiger then?" asked the jackal.
"In the cage," answered the tiger.
"How do you mean?" said the jackal.
"How were you within the cage? Which way were you looking?"
"Why, I stood so," said the tiger, jumping into the cage, "and my head was on this side."
"Very good," said the jackal. "But I cannot judge without understanding the whole matter exactly. Was the cage door open or shut?"
"Shut, and bolted," said the Brahman.
"Then shut and bolt it," said the jackal.
When the Brahman had done this, the jackal said, "Oh, you wicked and ungrateful tiger, when the good Brahman opened your cage door, is to eat him the only return you would make? Stay there, then, for the rest of your days, for no one will ever let you out again. Proceed on your journey, friend Brahman. Your road lies that way, and mine this."
So saying, the jackal ran off in one direction, and the Brahman went rejoicing on his way in the other.
Once upon a time, a tiger was caught in a trap. He tried in vain to get out through the bars, and rolled and bit with rage and grief when he failed. By chance a poor Brahman came by.
"Let me out of this cage, oh pious one!" cried the tiger.
"Nay, my friend," replied the Brahman mildly, "you would probably eat me if I did."
"Not at all!" swore the tiger with many oaths. "On the contrary, I should be for ever grateful, and serve you as a slave!"
Now when the tiger sobbed and sighed and wept and swore, the pious Brahman's heart softened, and at last he consented to open the door of the cage. Out popped the tiger, and, seizing the poor man, cried, "What a fool you are! What is to prevent my eating you now, for after being cooped up so long I am just terribly hungry!"
In vain the Brahman pleaded for his life. The most he could gain was a promise to abide by the decision of the first three things he chose to question as to the justice of the tiger's action.
So the Brahman first asked a pipal tree what it thought of the matter, but the pipal tree replied coldly, "What have you to complain about? Don't I give shade and shelter to everyone who passes by, and don't they in return tear down my branches to feed their cattle? Don't whimper. Be a man!"
Then the Brahman, sad at heart, went further afield till he saw a buffalo turning a well wheel. But he fared no better from it, for it answered, "You are a fool to expect gratitude! Look at me! Whilst I gave milk they fed me on cotton seed and oil cake, but now I am dry they yoke me here and give me refuse as fodder!"
The Brahman, still more sad, asked the road to give him its opinion.
"My dear sir," said the road, "how foolish you are to expect anything else! Here am I, useful to everybody, yet all, rich and poor, great and small, trample on me as they go past, giving me nothing but the ashes of their pipes and the husks of their grain!"
On this the Brahman turned back sorrowfully, and on the way he met a jackal, who called out, "Why, what's the matter, Mr. Brahman? You look as miserable as a fish out of water!"
The Brahman told him all that had occurred. "How very confusing!" said the jackal, when the recital was ended. "Would you mind telling me over again, for everything has got so mixed up?"
The Brahman told it all over again, but the jackal shook his head in a distracted sort of way, and still could not understand.
"It's very odd," said he, sadly, "but it all seems to go in at one ear and out at the other! I will go to the place where it all happened, and then perhaps I shall be able to give a judgment."
So they returned to the cage, by which the tiger was waiting for the Brahman, and sharpening his teeth and claws.
"You've been away a long time!" growled the savage beast, "but now let us begin our dinner."
"Our dinner!" thought the wretched Brahman, as his knees knocked together with fright. "What a remarkably delicate way of putting it!"
"Give me five minutes, my lord!" he pleaded, "in order that I may explain matters to the jackal here, who is somewhat slow in his wits."
The tiger consented, and the Brahman began the whole story over again, not missing a single detail, and spinning as long a yarn as possible.
"Oh, my poor brain! Oh, my poor brain!" cried the jackal, wringing its paws. "Let me see! How did it all begin? You were in the cage, and the tiger cam walking by --"
"Pooh!" interrupted the tiger, "what a fool you are! I was in the cage."
"Of course!" cried the jackal, pretending to tremble with fright. "Yes! I was in the cage -- no I wasn't -- dear! dear! where are my wits? Let me see -- the tiger was in the Brahman, and the cage came walking by -- no, that's not it, either! Well, don't mind me, but begin your dinner, for I shall never understand!"
"Yes, you shall!" returned the tiger, in a rage at the jackal's stupidity. "I'll make you understand! Look here -- I am the tiger --"
"Yes, my lord!"
"And that is the Brahman --"
"Yes, my lord!"
"And that is the cage --"
"Yes, my lord!"
"And I was in the cage. Do you understand?"
"Yes -- no -- please, my lord --"
"Well?" cried the tiger impatiently.
"Please, my lord! How did you get in?"
"How! Why in the usual way, of course!"
"Oh, dear me! -- My head is beginning to whirl again! Please don't be angry, my lord, but what is the usual way?"
At this the tiger lost patience, and, jumping into the cage, cried, "This way! Now do you understand how it was?"
"Perfectly!" grinned the jackal, as he dexterously shut the door, "and if you will permit me to say so, I think matters will remain as they were!"
There was once a wily old crocodile who dwelt in a tank [pond] hard by a village, and he was sometimes so ferocious that he would seize children who used to go for water there, then drown and eat them. He had become, in fact, the terror of the place.
One year there was a very great drought, and the tank by degrees began to dry up, and at last it got quite dry, and the crocodile was to be seen grilling and roasting in the sun.
He used to call out to the passers-by, "Oh! pray take pity upon me and show me where I can go for water, for I am dying in this heat."
"No, indeed! they all said. "We are glad to see you suffering, for have you not often made us suffer by taking our goats, and sometimes even our children? We shall not help you in any way."
At last an old man passed by, and the crocodile appealed to him, and at first he replied as the others did, but afterwards he relented and said, "Well, if you will follow me I will take you to a tank which is never dry." So the crocodile followed him, and he showed him a tank no great distance off, which was filled with water.
The old man went first into the tank himself, and calling to the crocodile, he said, "See here, how deep it is!"
No sooner had the crocodile had a good drink, than he made a grab at the old man's leg. "Ah-ho! Ah-ho!" said the old man. "What are you doing?"
"Well," replied the crocodile, "I have had a good drink, thanks to you, and as I have had no food for many days, I am going to make a meal of you. That is what I am going to do."
"You wretched and ungrateful brute!" said the old man. "Is this the way you reward me?"
At that moment a jackal hove in sight, coming for a drink (the jackals, we know, are the most cunning of all animals), and the old man said, "I will put my case before him, and if he says you are to eat me, very good, so you shall."
The old man then beckoned to the jackal to come close up to the tank, and told him all the facts of the case.
The jackal said, "You know I am always a just judge, and if you want me to decide, you must show me the place from whence you brought the crocodile."
So they all three wended their way back to the tank near the village, and the jackal said, "Show me the exact spot where you first found the crocodile," and when they got there the jackal said, "Now I am going to give you my judgment, so prepare to listen." Then turning to the old man, he said quietly, "You silly old idiot! What made you ever help a crocodile? Now, you run one way, and I will run the other."
The jackal gave a skip, and was soon off out of sight, and the old man took to his heels also, and soon got away. The wily old crocodile, now balked of his prey, said to himself, "I know my way back to that water tank, and I will someday have my revenge on that jackal, for he is sure to come there to lap water."
So back he went, and as there were many trees near the tank, some of whose roots went beneath the water, the crocodile lay in ambush there. By and by the jackal came to drink water, and the crocodile made a sudden snap at his leg, and held it.
"Oh, you foolish crocodile!" the jackal said, "you think you have got hold of my leg, do you? But it is only the root of a tree."
Hearing this, the crocodile released his hold, and the jackal jumped off in high glee out of his reach.
The crocodile then determined that he would try some other plan of entrapping him. So, as there were great numbers of a small fruit falling from one of the trees, which he knew the jackal came to eat, he one night piled up a heap and hid himself beneath it, leaving only his eyes uncovered.
Presently the jackal came prowling along, and noticing the pile of fruit he felt inclined to partake of some, but he drew near very cautiously, and in a moment he caught sight of the two eyes of the crocodile glistening in the moonlight, when he called out, "Oh, I see you!" and scampered off.
After this, the crocodile saw that it was no use to try himself to catch the jackal, "for," said he, "he is too cunning for me. I must employ someone who comes to get water here."
So one day he saw a farmer, and said to him, "If you will catch a jackal for me, I will make you a rich man, for I will give you several jewels which people have dropped in this tank for years and years, and they are lying here at the bottom."
"Oh!" replied the farmer, "that is easily done." So that very night he went into the jungle and lay down as if dead.
Presently the jackal made his appearance, and smelling along he came close up to the body. Then he hesitated and said, "I wonder if this is really a dead body or not." He then called out audibly, "If it is really dead it will shake its leg, and if it is alive it won't do so." This he said so quickly and so artfully that the farmer was taken aback, and to make him believe he was dead he at once stupidly shook his leg, and off skipped the jackal, saying, "I caught you there," and was lost to view in an instant.
The farmer, who was very avaricious, and wanted the jewels badly, made up his mind that he would by hook or by crook make sure of the jackal on the next occasion. So this time he prepared of the softest wax a doll the size of a child, and digging a small grave and covering it over with leaves and mud, he waited in hiding to see the result.
Shortly after sunset the jackal began to prowl about as usual, and coming on the new grave he said to himself, "Ah! This is someone lately buried. I will try my luck here." He then began to scratch with his paw, and presently one paw got caught in the wax, and in trying to get that away, all four became stuck with the wax, when in a moment out came the farmer from his hiding place and said, "Ah! At last I have got you, and you are my prisoner!"
The jackal yelled and howled, and endeavored to escape, but was hindered by the wax on his feet. So then he took to frightening the farmer, and said, "If you do not get me out of this scrape I will call all the jackals in a moment of time, and they will destroy you forever, for do you not know that I am the king of the jackals?"
"What am I to do?" asked the farmer.
"Go!" he said. "Go and get some oil, and rub it all over me. Then get a fowl, and tie it about fifty yards away, and bring two men with hatchets to stand over me, so that if I attempt to get away they may chop me to pieces!"
This being done by the farmer, the jackal while being held in his hands sought his opportunity, and being well greased all over, he made a violent spring and so got clear of the farmer. Then he dashed between the legs of the men with hatchets, when they made a plunge at him, but they only succeeded in hurting their own legs. So the jackal got finally off, and picking up the fowl, he was soon lost to view, and so won the day.
There was once a farmer who was extremely poor. It happened that when his poverty was greatest a son was born to him, and this son was such a lucky child that his father speedily became quite as rich as he was before poor, and obtained a great name over all the country.
After a certain time the farmer thought to himself, "I must get my son betrothed somewhere. I was poor once, but I am now rich, and my son is lucky. It is right that he should be betrothed to the daughter of some rich man like myself."
It was long before he found a suitable match, but at last he betrothed the boy to a girl who lived in a distant town. The ceremony came on, much money was spent, many guests were invited, and much food was given away. In short, the betrothal was splendid.
The son had scarcely grown to manhood when the father died, leaving him in the world alone.
The parents of his betrothed, when they heard the sad news, felt very sorry for him, and at first they would have brought him to live at their own house. But the mother said, "He is old enough now to come and take our daughter home with him, so let us send for him that he may do so. No friend like a good wife."
A messenger was accordingly sent off, and the lad, when he received the invitation, dressed himself up in his best, and, mounting his mare, set off.
On the way he came to a lonely jungle, in which he saw a mongoose and a snake of enormous dimensions, engaged in deadly combat. He reined up his horse to look on. The mongoose soon began to wear out his adversary, and to inflict such wounds as would have put an end to its life in a short time. Seeing which, the boy considered to himself, "When two are contending, it is an act of charity to separate them." So he tried to separate the combatants, but every time he failed, as the mongoose again and again sprang upon his adversary in spite of him. Finding he could not prevail, he drew his sword and dealt the warlike little mongoose his death-blow.
After this he went on again, but he had not proceeded far when he found that the snake had rushed round and intercepted him.
Then began the boy to remonstrate. "I did you good service," said he. "Why, then, have you pursued me?"
"It is true," answered the snake, "that you saved me from my enemy. But I shall not let you go. I shall eat you."
"Surely," replied the lad, "one good turn deserves another. Will you injure me because I assisted you? In my country we do not deal with each other thus."
"In these parts," said the snake, "the custom is different. Everyone here observes the rule of returning evil for good."
The boy then began to argue with the snake, but he argued in vain, for the snake was determined to eat him. At last he said, "Very well, snake, you can eat me. But first give me eight days to go about my business, after which I shall come back."
With this request the snake complied, saying, "Be it so. In eight days you must return to me."
The snake, which had coiled himself round about the boy's body, now released his hold and suffered him to depart. So he rode on once more and completed his journey.
All his friends were very glad to see the young bridegroom, and especially his little wife, and at his father-in-law's house he remained for several days. But as he was always downcast and sad, they asked him, "Why are you so sorrowful?" For six days they asked in vain. On the seventh they spoke to their daughter, "Is he angry? What is the matter with him" But she also asked him in vain.
When the eight day came, he said, "Now let me go home." The father and mother then gave the daughter her portion, and, having placed them both in a bullock cart, they sent the young couple away.
So the two traveled until they had left the village far behind them. Then said the lad to his wife and to her servants, "Return now back again to your own home. As for me, it is decreed that I shall die on the way."
All the servants, being alarmed, at once returned, but his young wife said, "Where you fall, I shall fall. What am I to do at my house?" So she continued to accompany her husband.
When he arrived at the spot appointed, he dismounted from his horse and called forth the snake.
"I have come," said he, "in accordance with my promise. If you wish to eat me, come and eat me now!"
His wife, hearing his ominous words, descended also, and came and stood by her husband's side. By and by a dreadful hissing sound was heard, and the snake crawled out from the jungle, and was preparing to devour the unfortunate boy, when the girl exclaimed, "Why are you going to eat this poor youth?"
The snake then told her the whole story, how he was fighting with a mongoose, and how her husband interfered and killed his adversary. "And in this country," continued he, "our custom is to return evil for good!"
The young wife now tried all the arguments she could think of to divert the monster from his purpose, but he was deaf to her pleadings and refused to listen to them. Then said she, "You say that in this country people do evil in return for good. This is so strange a custom, and so very unreasonable, that I would fain know the history of it. How did it all come about?"
"Do you see those five talli trees?" answered the snake. Go you to them and cry out to them, 'What is the reason that in this country folks do evil in return for good?' and see what they will say to you!"
The girl went and did as she was bidden, addressing her request to the middle of the five.
The tree straightway answered her:
Count us! We are now five, but once we were six -- three pairs. The sixth tree was hollow, having a vast cavity in its trunk. It happened once upon a time, many years ago, that a certain thief went and robbed a house, and that the people followed him. He ran and ran and ran, and at last he came in among us. It was night, but the moon was shining, and the thief hid himself in the hollow talli tree. Hearing his pursuers close at hand, he besought the tree, saying, "O tree, tree, save me!"
When the talli tree heard his miserable cry it closed up its old sides upon him, and hid him in a safe embrace, so that the people searched for him in vain, and they had to return without him. When all pursuit was over, the tree once more opened and let him go.
Now, in this old talli tree there was sandal wood, and the thief, when he went forth, had the scent of sandal wood so permanently fixed upon him that wherever he was, and wherever he appeared, he diffused a delightful fragrance. It so happened that he visited the city of a certain king, and a man passing him on the road suddenly stopped, and asked him, "Where did you get this beautiful scent?"
"You are mistaken," answered the thief. "I have no scent."
"If you will give me this scent," said the man, "I will pay you its value."
Again the thief answered, "I have no scent -- none."
Then the man, who was shrewd and intelligent, went his way to the king and told him, "There is a stranger arrived here who possesses a most wonderful scent. To your highness, perhaps, he might be induced to give it up."
The king then ordered the thief into his presence, and said to him, "Show me the scent you have."
"I have none," said he.
"If you will give it up to me quietly," said the king, "you shall be rewarded. If not, you shall be put to death."
When the thief heard this he got frightened and said, "Do not kill me, and I will tell the whole story." So he told the king how his life was preserved in the heart of the talli tree, and how the scent of sandal wood had never left him since.
Then said the king, "Come along and show me that wonderful tree of which you tell me."
Arriving at this very spot, the king instantly gave orders to his followers to cut the tree down and to carry it to his palace. But when the talli tree heard his order, and when it understood the reason of it, it cried aloud, "I have saved the life of a man, and for this I am to lose my own life. For the future, therefore, let it be decreed within this jungle that whosoever dares to do good, to him it shall be repaid in evil!"
The girl, having heard this doleful story, returned once more to her husband's side.
"Well," said the snake, "have you consulted the talli tree? And do you find that our custom here is even as I told you?"
She was compelled to admit that it was so. But as the monster advanced to his victim, she wept and said, "What will become of me? If you must eat my husband, you must begin by eating me!"
The snake objected to an arrangement so unreasonable. "You?" cried he. "But you have never done me the smallest good. You have not even done me harm. How, then, can I be expected to eat you?"
"But if you kill my husband," replied she, "what's left for me? You acknowledge yourself that I have done you no good, and yet you would inflict this injury upon me."
When the snake heard these words he stopped, and began to grow remorseful, especially as she wept more copiously than ever. That the boy must be eaten was certain, but how should he comfort the girl? Wishing to devise something, he crept back to his hole, and in a few minutes he returned with two magic globules or pills. "Here, foolish woman," said he, "take these two pills and swallow them, and you will have two sons to whom you can devote yourself, and who will take good care of you!"
The girl accepted the pills, but, with the cunning natural to a woman, said, "If I take these two pills, doubtless two sons will be born. But what about my good name?"
The snake, who knew not that she was already wed, hearing her speech, became exasperated with her. "Women are preposterous beings," cried he, and he crept back once more to his hole. This time he brought out two more pills, and when handing them to the disconsolate girl he said, "Revenge will sweeten your lot. When any of your neighbors revile you on account of your sons, take one of these pills between finger and thumb, hold it over them, rubbing it gently so that some of the powder may fall on them, and immediately you will see them consume away to ashes."
Tying the former pills in her cloth, the girl looked at the other pills incredulously, and then, with a sudden thought, she gently rubbed them over the snake, saying with an innocent air, "O snake, explain this mystery to me again! Is this the way I am to rub them?"
The moment an atom of the magic powder had touched the snake, he was set on fire, and in another instant he was merely a long wavy line of gray dust lying on the ground.
Then with a glad face the little wife turned to her husband and said, "Whosoever does good to anyone, in the end good will be done to him. And whosoever does evil to anyone, in the end evil will be done to him. You did good, and lo! you are rewarded. The snake did evil, and evil befell him. All things help each other. The Almighty brings everything to rights at last."
After this the two went on their way to their own home, where they lived in happiness and contentment for many a year.
A crocodile made his burrow in the embankment of a tank near a village. Afterwards the mud dried and became hard, so the crocodile was unable to get out of the hole. He was going to die.
A man passed by on his was to fetch a midwife to attend to his wife. The crocodile heard him and said, "Save me by breaking up the earth, so that I may get out." The man broke up the earth and let him out.
As there was no water left in the tank, the man placed the crocodile on his shoulder and went to the edge of the river. He then placed the crocodile into the water, but no sooner had he done so than the crocodile seized him by the arm and was about to eat him.
"Why are you going to eat me?" he asked. "Do you not know how I helped you? And still you are going to eat me!"
The crocodile said, "It is true, indeed, that you helped me. But I am going to eat you, because I am hungry."
The man said, "It is good. You may eat me, but first let as ask two or three persons as witnesses." So they went to ask the witnesses about it.
They came to a kumbuk tree, and the man said to it, "This crocodile is going to eat me. I am asking your opinion of it."
"What is it all about?"
The man said, "This crocodile was going to die. I saved him. Now he is going to eat me. Is that right?"
The kumbuk tree said, "O crocodile, do not let that man go. There is no animal so wicked as that man. He stays near a tree in its shade, then he breaks off its bark and leaves and takes them away. In the end he cuts it down and takes the whole tree."
From there he went and asked a cow, "O cow, I saved this crocodile from death. He is now going to eat me. Do you think that is right?"
The cow said, "O crocodile, do not let that man go. That man is a wicked man. He takes our milk, and in the end he kills and eats us. Do not let him go."
After that he asked a jackal about it.
The jackal asked, "What is it all about?"
He said to the jackal, "O jackal, I saved this crocodile instead of letting him die. Now he is going to eat me."
The jackal said, "I cannot give you a decision without knowing the whole story. You must show me the whole affair from the beginning."
So the man placed the crocodile on his shoulder and carried him back to his home. He put it back in its burrow and packed the soil in around him.
The jackal said, "Don't be afraid. I am on your side."
Then the man said, "Jackal, hear this case."
The jackal said, "I am both the judge and the witness. Now take up a cudgel and beat him until he is dead. I saw your excellence and his wickedness."
One day in autumn, Mountain Uncle was rambling among the lower hills. Though far from any village, he kept a sharp lookout for traps and hunters, but none seemed to be near. He was very hungry and hoped for game.
But on coming round a great rock, Mountain Uncle suddenly saw in his path some feet ahead, as he thought, a big tiger like himself. He stopped, twitched his tail most ferociously as a challenge, showed fight by growling, and got ready to spring. What was his surprise to see the other tiger doing exactly the same things. Mountain Uncle was sure that there would be a terrible struggle, but this was just what he wanted, for he expected of course to win.
But after a tremendous leap in the air, he landed in a pit and all of a heap, bruised and disappointed. There was no tiger to be seen, but instead a heavy lid of logs had closed over his head with a crash and he lay in darkness. Old Mountain Uncle at last was caught. Yes, the hunter had concealed the pit with sticks and leaves, and on the upright timbers, covered with vines and brushwood, had hung a bit of looking- glass. Mountain Uncle had often beheld his own face and body in the water, when he stooped to drink, but this time, not seeing any water, he was deceived into thinking a real tiger wanted to fight him.
By and by a Buddhist priest came along, who believed in being kind to all living creatures. Hearing an animal moaning, he opened the trap and lifting the lid saw old Mountain Uncle at the bottom licking his bruised paw.
"Oh, please, Mr. Man, let me get out. I'm hurt badly," said the tiger.
Thereupon the priest lifted up one of the logs and slid it down, until it rested on the bottom of the pit. Then the tiger climbed up and out.
Old Mountain Uncle expressed his thanks volubly, saying to the shaven head, "I am deeply grateful to you, sir, for helping me out of my trouble. Nevertheless, as I am very hungry, I must eat you up."
The priest, very much surprised and indignant, protested against such vile ingratitude. To say the least, it was very bad manners and entirely against the law of the mountains, and he appealed to a big tree to decide between them. The spirit in the tree spoke through the rustling leaves and declared that the man should go free and that the tiger was both ungrateful and unmannerly.
Old Mountain Uncle was not satisfied yet, especially as the priest was unusually fat and would make a very good dinner. However, he allowed the man to appeal once more and this time to a big rock. "The man is certainly right, Venerable Mountain Uncle, and you are wholly wrong," said the spirit in the rock. "Your master, the Mountain Spirit, who rides on the green bull and the piebald horse to punish his enemies, will certainly chastise you if you devour this priest. You will be no fit messenger of the Mountain Lord if you are so ungrateful as to eat the man who saved you from starvation or death in the trap. It is shockingly bad manners even to think of such a thing."
The tiger felt ashamed, but his eyes still glared with hunger; so, to be sure of saving his own skin, the priest proposed to make the toad a judge. The tiger agreed. But the toad, with his gold-rimmed eyes, looked very wise, and instead of answering quickly, as the tree and rock did, deliberated a long time. The priest's heart sank, while the tiger moved his jaws as if anticipating his feast. He felt sure that Old Speckled Back would decide in his favor.
"I must go and see the trap before I can make up my mind," said the toad, who looked as solemn as a magistrate.
So all three leaped, hopped, or walked to the trap. The tiger, moving fast, was there first, which was just what the toad, who was a friend of the priest, wanted. Besides, Old Speckled Back was diligently looking for a crack in the rocks nearby. So, while the toad and the tiger were studying the matter, the priest ran off and saved himself within the monastery gates. When at last Old Speckled Back decided against Mountain Uncle and in favor of the man, he had no sooner finished his judgment than he hopped into the rock crevice, and, crawling far inside, defied the tiger, calling him an unmannerly brute and an ungrateful beast, and daring him to do his worst.
Old Mountain Uncle was so mad with rage and hunger that his craftiness seemed turned into stupidity. He clawed at the rock to pull it open to get at the toad to tear him to pieces. But Speckled Back, safe within, only laughed. Unable to do any harm, the tiger flew into a passion of rage. The hotter his temper grew, the more he lost his wit. Poking his nose inside the crack, he rubbed it so hard on the rough rock that he soon bled to death.
When the hunter came along, he marveled at what he saw, but he was glad to get rich by selling the tiger's fur, bones, and claws ; for in Korea nothing sells so well as a tiger. As for the toad, he told to several generations of his descendants the story of how he outwitted the old Mountain Uncle.
A man was walking through the forest one day when he saw a funny black thing like a whip wriggling about under a big stone. He was curious to know what it all meant. So he lifted up the stone and found there a huge black snake.
"That's well," said the snake. "I have been trying to get out for two days, and, Oh, how hungry I am. I must have something to eat, and there is nobody around, so I must eat you."
"But that wouldn't be fair," said the man with a trembling voice. "But for me you would never have come out from under the stone."
"I do not care for that," said the snake. "Self preservation is the first law of life; you ask anybody if that isn't so."
"Anyone will tell you," said the man, "that gratitude is a person's first duty, and surely you owe me thanks for saving your life."
"But you haven't saved my life, if I am to die of hunger," said the snake.
"Oh yes, I have," said the man; "all you have to do is to wait till you find something to eat."
"Meanwhile I shall die, and what's the use of being saved!"
So they disputed and they disputed whether the case was to be decided by the claims of gratitude or the rights of self-preservation, till they did not know what to do.
"I tell you what I'll do," said the snake, "I'll let the first passer-by decide which is right."
"But I can't let my life depend upon the word of the first comer."
"Well, we'll ask the first two that pass by."
"Perhaps they won't agree," said the man; "what are we to do then? We shall be as badly off as we are now."
"Ah, well," said the snake, "let it be the first three. In all law courts it takes three judges to make a session. We'll follow the majority of votes."
So they waited till at last there came along an old, old horse. And they put the case to him, whether gratitude should ward off death.
"I don't see why it should," said the horse. "Here have I been slaving for my master for the last fifteen years, till I am thoroughly worn out, and only this morning I heard him say, 'Roger' -- that's my name -- 'is no use to me any longer; I shall have to send him to the knacker's and get a few pence for his hide and his hoofs.' There's gratitude for you."
So the horse's vote was in favor of the snake. And they waited till at last an old hound passed by limping on three legs, half blind with scarcely any teeth. So they put the case to him.
"Look at me," said he; "I have slaved for my master for ten years, and this very day he has kicked me out of his house because I am no use to him any longer, and he grudged me a few bones to eat. So far as I can see nobody acts from gratitude."
"Well," said the snake, "there's two votes for me. What's the use of waiting for the third? he's sure to decide in my favor, and if he doesn't it's two to one. Come here and I'll eat you!"
"No, no," said the man, "a bargain's a bargain; perhaps the third judge will be able to convince the other two and my life will be saved."
So they waited and they waited, till at last a fox came trotting along; and they stopped him and explained to him both sides of the case. He sat up and scratched his left ear with his hind paw, and after a while he beckoned the man to come near him. And when he did so the fox whispered, "What will you give me if I get you out of this?"
The man whispered back, "A pair of fat chickens."
"Well," said the fox, "if I am to decide this case I must clearly understand the situation. Let me see! If I comprehend aright, the man was lying under the stone and the snake -- -- "
"No, no," cried out the horse and the hound and the snake. "It was the other way."
"Ah, ha, I see! The stone was rolling down and the man sat on it, and then -- -- "
"Oh, how stupid you are," they all cried; "it wasn't that way at all."
"Dear me, you are quite right. I am very stupid, but, really, you haven't explained the case quite clearly to me."
"I'll show you," said the snake, impatient from his long hunger; and he twisted himself again under the stone and wriggled his tail till at last the stone settled down upon him and he couldn't move out. "That's the way it was."
"And that's the way it will be," said the fox, and, taking the man's arm, he walked off, followed by the horse and the hound. "And now for my chickens."
"I'll go and get them for you," said the man, and went up to his house, which was near, and told his wife all about it.
"But," she said, "why waste a pair of chickens on a foxy old fox! I know what I'll do."
So she went into the back yard and unloosed the dog and put it into a meal-bag and gave it to the man, who took it down and gave it to the fox, who trotted off with it to his den.
But when he opened the bag out sprung the dog and gobbled him all up.
There's gratitude for you.
An emperor rode out in the afternoon to hunt. Happening to pass a certain wood, he heard a serpent, which some shepherds had caught and bound firmly to a tree, making a most horrible clamor. Moved by pity, he loosed it, and warmed its frozen body in his own bosom. No sooner, however, did the animal find itself recovered, than it began to bite its benefactor, and shot a flood of poison into the wound. "What have you done?" said the emperor. "Wherefore have you rendered evil for good?"
The serpent, like the ass of Balaam, being suddenly endowed with voice, replied, "The propensities which nature has implanted no one can destroy. You have done what you could; and I have only acted according to my nature. You exhibited towards me all the kindness in your power, and I have recompensed you as well as I might. I offered poison, because, except poison, I had nothing to offer. Moreover, I am an enemy to man; for through him I became punished with a curse."
As they thus contended, they entreated a philosopher to judge between them, and to state which was in the wrong. "I know this matter," answered the umpire, "only by your relation; but I should like to see the thing itself upon which I am to pronounce judgment. Let the serpent, therefore, be bound to the tree, as he was in the first instance, and let my lord the emperor remain unbound; I shall then determine the matter between you." This was done accordingly. "Now you are bound," said the philosopher, addressing the serpent, loose yourself if you can."
"I cannot," said the serpent; "I am bound so fast that I can scarcely move."
"Then die," rejoined the philosopher, "by a just sentence. You were always ungrateful to man, and you always will be. My lord, you are now free. Shake the venom from your bosom, and go your way. Do not repeat your folly. Remember that the serpent is only influence by his natural propensities." The emperor thanked the philosopher for his assistance and advice, and departed.
My beloved, the emperor is any good ecclesiastic, the wood is the world, and the serpent is the devil. The shepherds are the prophets, patriarchs, Christian preachers, etc. The philosopher is a discreet confessor.
Only a few of the 283 entries of the Gesta Romanorum (Deeds of the Romans), written in Latin by an anonymous English scribe about 1330, deal with the Romans. Instead, the work presents a mixture of anecdotes, legends, and fables, all with appended morals, called "applications." In some instances the connection between the stories and their claimed moral application is tenuous at best. The awkward moralizing notwithstanding, this collection provided material for numerous writers of later generations, including William Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Jean de La Fontaine, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
There was once a man who went into the woods to cut some firewood. He went from one tree to another, but they were all too good for his purpose, as they would make good timber if allowed to stand. At last he found a tree which seemed good for nothing; it was gnarled and partly decayed, so he began to hew away at it. But just as he began to cut, he heard a voice calling to him, "Help me out, my good man." And as he turned he saw a large viper that was caught in a cleft of the tree and could not free itself.
"No, I will not help you," said the man, "for you would harm me."
But the viper said that it would not hurt him, if he would only free it. Then the man put his axe into the cleft under the snake, and so freed it. But hardly was it free, when it coiled itself up, hissed, put out its tongue and prepared to strike him.
"Did I not tell you," said the man, "that you were a rascal who would reward good with evil!"
"Yes," answered the viper, "you may well say that; but so it is in the world, that all good deeds are rewarded with evil."
"That is not true," said the man, "good deeds are rewarded with good."
"You will not find anybody to agree with you there," said the viper. "I know better how it goes in the world."
"Let us inquire about it," said the man.
"Very well," said the viper. So it did not bite him, but went with him through the forest until they came to an old, worn out horse that was grazing. It was lame, and blind in one eye, and had only a few broken teeth in its mouth. They asked him whether good deeds were rewarded with good, or with evil.
"They are rewarded with evil," said the horse. "For twenty years I have served my master faithfully; I have carried him on my back, and drawn his wagon, and have taken care not to stumble lest he fall. As long as I was young and strong, I had kind treatment; I had a good stall, and plenty of food, and was well curried. But now that I am old and weak, I must work in the treadmill the livelong day; I never have a roof to cover me, and all the food I have is what I get for myself. No, indeed, good deeds are rewarded only with evil."
"There now, you hear," said the viper, "Now I shall bite you."
"Oh, no! wait a moment," said the man, "there comes the fox; let us ask him for his opinion." The fox came up and stopped and looked at them, for he saw that the man was in serious trouble. Then the viper asked the fox whether good deeds were rewarded with evil or with good.
"Say 'with good,'" whispered the man, "and I will give you two fat geese."
Then the fox said, "Good deeds are rewarded with good," and as he said that he jumped on the viper and bit its neck so that it fell to the ground. But as it was dying it insisted, "No, good deeds are rewarded with evil; that I have experienced, I, who spared the man's life, who has now cheated me out of mine."
Now the viper was dead and the man was free. Then he said to the fox, "Come home with me and get your geese."
"No, I thank you," said the fox, "I will not go to town, for there the dogs would get me."
"Then wait here until I come with the geese," said the man. He ran home and said to his wife, "Hasten and put two fat geese into a sack, for I have promised them to the fox for his breakfast today."
The woman took a sack and put something into it; but it was not geese she put in, but two fierce dogs.
The man then ran out with the bag to the fox, and said, "Here you have your reward."
"Thank you," said the fox, "then it was not a lie after all, what I said first -- that good deeds are rewarded with good." Then taking the bag on his back he ran off into the woods.
"That sack is heavy," said the fox, so he sat down and tore it open with his sharp teeth. But as he did so the two dogs leaped from the bag and fixed their teeth in his throat. There was no escape from them, so he was bitten to death, but not until he had said, "No, what I said first was a lie, after all; good deeds are rewarded with evil."
"I'll teach that bear a lesson!" the farmer thought to himself. So he set a snare made of a strong net and carefully covered it over with leaves and branches. That day Osmo, when he came as usual to the field, got entangled in the net and was unable to escape. The farmer when he came and found him securely caught was overjoyed.
"Now, you brute!" he said, "I've got you and I'm going to kill you!"
"Oh, master, don't do that!" the bear implored. "Don't kill me!"
"Why shouldn't I kill you?" the farmer asked. "Aren't you destroying my rye?"
"Let me off this time!" Osmo begged, "and I'll reward you! I swear I will!" He begged and begged until at last he prevailed upon the farmer to open the net and let him out.
"Now then," the farmer said as soon as the bear was freed, "how are you going to reward me?"
Osmo put a heavy paw on the farmer's shoulder. "This is how I'm going to reward you," he said: "I'm going to eat you up !"
"What!" the farmer exclaimed. "Is that your idea of a reward for kindness?"
"Exactly!" Osmo declared. "In this world that is the reward kindness always gets! Ask anyone!"
"I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" the farmer cried.
"Very well. I'll prove to you that I'm right. We'll ask the first person we meet."
The first person they met was an old horse. They put their case to him.
"The bear is right," the old horse said. "Look at me. For thirty years I gave my master faithful service and just this morning I heard him say, 'It's time we killed that old plug! He's no good for work any more and he's only eating his head off!'"
The bear squinted his little eyes. "You see!"
"No, I don't see!" the farmer insisted. "We must ask someone else."
They walked on a little farther until they met an old dog. They put their case to him and at once the dog said, "The bear is right! Look at me. I gave my master a life time of faithful service and just this morning I overheard him say: 'It's time we killed that old dog!' Alas, alas, in this wicked world goodness is always so rewarded!"
But still the farmer was unsatisfied and to humor him Osmo said that he was willing that they should put their case once more to the judgment of an outsider. The next person they met was Mikko, the fox.
Mikko listened carefully and then drawing the farmer aside he whispered, "If I give judgment in your favor will you let me carry off all the chickens in your henhouse?"
"Indeed I will!" the farmer promised.
Then Mikko cleared his throat importantly and said, "H'm! H'm! To give fair judgment in this case I must go over all the ground. First show me the field of rye and the damage Osmo did."
So they went to the field and the fox, after he had appraised the damage, shook his head seriously. "It was certainly wicked of Osmo eating all that rye!... Now show me the net."
So they went to the snare and the fox examined it carefully.
"You say the bear got entangled in this snare. I want to see just how he did it." Osmo showed just how he had been caught.
"Get all the way in," the fox said. "I want to make sure that you couldn't possibly get out unaided."
So the bear entangled himself again in the net and proved that he couldn't possibly get out unaided.
"Well," said Mikko, the rascal, "you deserved to get caught the first time and now that you're in there again you can just stay there! Come on, Mr. Farmer."
So Mikko and the farmer went off leaving Osmo to his fate. That night the fox went to the farmer's henhouse to claim his reward. When he came in the chickens, of course, set up an awful squawking that aroused the family. The farmer stayed in bed but he sent his wife out with a stout club.
"It sounds to me," he said, "as if some rascally fox is trying to steal our hens. If you catch him, don't be gentle with him!"
"Gentle!" repeated the wife significantly. She hurried out to the henhouse and when she found Mikko inside she gave him an awful beating. In fact he barely escaped with his life.
"Ah!" he said to himself as he limped painfully home, "to think that this is the reward my kindness has received! Oh, what a wicked, wicked world this is!"
There was once a huntsman, who, in passing a quarry, found a serpent under a large stone. The serpent asked the hunter to liberate him, but the latter said, "I will not free you, for you will eat me."
The serpent replied, "Liberate me, for I will not eat you."
When the hunter had set the serpent at liberty, the latter wanted to devour him, but the hunter said, "What are you doing? Did you not promise me that you would not eat me?"
The serpent replied that hunger did not observe promises.
The hunter then said, "If you have no right to eat me, will you do it?"
"No," answered the serpent.
"Let us go, then," said the hunter, "and ask three times."
They went into the woods and found a greyhound, and asked him, and he replied, "I had a master, and I went hunting and caught hares, and when I carried them home my master had nothing too good to give me to eat. No, when I cannot overtake even a tortoise, because I am old, my master wishes to kill me. For this reason I condemn you to be eaten by the serpent, for he who does good finds evil."
"Do you hear? We have one judge," said the serpent. They continued their journey, and found a horse, and asked him, and he too replied that the serpent was right to eat the man, "for," he said, "I had a master who fed me when I could travel. Now that I can do so no longer, he would like to hang me."
The serpent said, "Behold, two judges!"
They went on and found a fox. The huntsman said, "Fox, you must aid me. Listen: I was passing quarry and found this serpent dying under a large stone, and he asked aid from me, and I released him, and now he wants to eat me."
The fox answered, "I will be the judge. Let us return to the quarry to see how the serpent was."
They went there and put the stone on the serpent, and the fox asked, "Is that the way you were?"
"Yes," answered the serpent.
"Very well then, stay so always!" said the fox.
There was once a man who went into the forest to gather wood, and saw a snake crushed under a large stone. He raised the stone a little with the handle of his axe, and the snake crawled out.
When it was at liberty, it said to the man, "I am going to eat you."
The man answered, "Softly. First let us hear the judgment of someone, and if I am condemned, then you shall eat me."
The first one they met was a horse as thin as a stick, tied to an oak tree. He had eaten the leaves as far as he could reach, for he was famished.
The snake said to him, "Is it right for me to eat this man who has saved my life?"
The nag answered, "More than right. Just look at me! I was one of the finest horses. I have carried my master so many years, and what have I gained? Now that I am so badly off that I can no longer work they have tied me to this oak, and after I have eaten these few leaves I shall die of hunger. Eat the man, then. For he who does good is ill rewarded, and he who does evil must be well rewarded. Eat him, for you will be doing a good day's work."
They afterwards happened to find a mulberry tree, all holes, for it was eaten by old age. And the snake asked it if it was right to eat the man who had saved its life.
"Yes," the tree answered at once, "for I have given my master so many leaves that he has raised from them the finest silkworms in the world. Now that I can no longer stand upright, he has said that he is going to throw me into the fire. Eat him, then, for you will do well."
Afterwards they met the fox. The man took her aside and begged her to pronounce in his favor.
The fox said, "The better to render judgment I must see just how the matter has happened."
They all returned to the spot and arranged matters as they were at first. But as soon as the man saw the snake under the stone he cried out, "Where you are, there I will leave you."
And there the snake remained.
The fox wished in payment a bag of hens, and the man promised them to her for the next morning. The fox went there in the morning, and when the man saw her he put some dogs in the bag, and told the fox not to eat the hens close by, for fear the mistress of the house would hear it. So the fox did not open the bag until she had reached a distant valley. Then the dogs came out and ate her.
And so it is in the world. For who does good is ill rewarded, and who does evil is well rewarded.
"I'll do that," answered the horse, "but you must promise not to eat me."
The lion promised, and the horse dug with his hooves until he had freed the lion. However, as soon as the lion saw that he was free, he said, "Now I am going to eat you."
"What were the conditions?" said the horse. "Did we not agree that you would not eat me?"
"That makes no difference now," shouted the lion. "But if you want to, we can go before a judge."
"Good," replied the horse. "But whom shall we choose?"
"The fox," said the lion.
The horse agreed to this, so they went to the fox, and the lion presented him with the question.
"Yes," answered the fox, "it seems to me that you must be right, Mr. Lion, but I cannot finalize my judgment until I have seen how the two of you were standing."
So all three of them went to the rocky cleft, and the horse positioned himself in the same place he had stood. Then the fox told the lion to force himself back into the cleft. "Is that how you were standing?" he asked.
"This leg was a little more twisted," answered the lion.
"Then push yourself in a little more tightly. You must be in exactly the same position as you were when you asked the horse for help."
The lion pushed himself in a little more, and the fox asked again, "Is that exactly how you were standing?"
"This front leg was a little further inside."
"Then push yourself in still a little more."
Finally the lion had pushed himself in so tightly that he could not get out again.
"So," said the fox. "now you are exactly where you were before. Now the horse can decide whether he will help you out again."
The horse, however, did not want to do so, but instead threw stones at the lion until he was dead.
Yes, indeed, the fox is sly!
A peasant in his field once heard a voice calling, "Help me! Help me!" He looked around but saw no one. Finally he discovered that the voice was coming from below, from beneath a large stone. Rolling it onto its side he saw a hole where there was a large snake. It slithered out and was about to tear the peasant to pieces.
"What!" said the peasant. "My reward for having freed you from your prison is be torn to pieces?"
"Didn't you know," replied the snake, "that ingratitude is the world's reward?"
"I do not believe that," said the peasant. "Come, let us go together to a judge who will decide if you have the right to tear me to pieces."
So the went to seek a judge. After going a little way they came to a tree onto which was tied an old horse.
"What are you doing there?" the peasant asked the horse. "Who tied you here?"
"Oh," it said, "my master has gone to fetch a knacker who is to kill me, for I am too old and week to pull the plow and other loads. When I was young and strong, my master had only praise for me, but now he has no use for me, and thus I will have to die."
"You see, peasant," said the snake, "there you have proof that ingratitude is the world's reward. Now I am going to tear you to pieces."
"No," said the peasant. "Let us go to another judge."
So they went further. A dog came ran up to them and sought the peasant's protection against his master, who was about to shoot him. He had now grown unable to watch over the house, and he told the peasant that his master had held him dearly when he was young and could watch over the house and the yard, but now that he was old and weak, he had acquired another dog and wanted to shoot him.
"There you have the second proof that ingratitude is the world's reward," said the snake. "You must admit that I have the right to tear you apart."
But the peasant did not want to admit this, and while they were arguing about it, a fox came their way and asked why they were quarreling.
"Wait," thought the peasant. "The fox is very sly. He could be our judge."
He explained the case to him, who then took the peasant aside and said to him, "If you will promise me two roosters then I'll free you from the snake."
"They will be yours," said the peasant.
"Now," said the fox, "if I am to be your judge then I must see the hole where the snake was caught. I cannot make a judgment until I have seen it."
So they turned around and went back to the hole. Upon seeing it, the fox said, "What? Such a large snake was caught in this small hole? I do not believe it. It is entirely impossible! First you must convince me that there is room for you there. Snake, crawl inside and show me that you really were caught there."
The snake crawled inside, and he had scarcely done so when then fox quickly rolled the stone back in place, capturing him again, however much he cried out "Help me!"
The peasant was very happy and told the fox to come that evening to fetch the roosters. He would leave the back gate to his yard open so he could get in.
The fox came that evening when everyone was eating supper. He found the back gate open and crept inside. But when he neared the chicken coop, the chickens saw him and cried out. The peasant's wife heard the noise, went to see what was wrong, and discovered the fox.
"Wait," she said, "I'll light the way home for you." She ran into the kitchen, picked up a burning piece of wood, ran back to the chicken coop, and hit the fox so long with it until his pelt was all burned up. Crying out, he ran away. When he was halfway out he shouted "Ingratitude is still the world's reward."
That minute he heard a cry, and someone called, "Oh, good man, take pity on me! Roll off the stone and save my life. Free me, and I will pay you as the world pays best!"
The peasant rolled the stone away, and out of the hole a great snake crawled, wound himself into a spiral, raised up his head, and said, "Know, man, that I am Yaza! Get ready, you must die."
The peasant was terribly frightened, and lamenting he reproached the snake with ingratitude. "Didn't you call for help? Haven't I saved your life?" asked he.
"Of course," replied the snake, "but I am only doing what I promised; I am paying you as the world pays best."
After a long discussion the snake agreed to let another settle the dispute, and they went together in search of a judge. After a while they came to where an old dog was tied to a fence.
"How are you, faithful guardian of a house?" asked the peasant.
"As you see," replied the dog.
"Be so kind as to be our judge; we have a dispute."
And the peasant told the whole story. "Wasn't it so and so?" asked he, turning to the snake.
"It was," answered the snake.
The dog thought a while, then said to the man, "My friend, you must die, for this is just how the world pays best. When I was young I was my master's favorite. He wore the skins of the wolves and foxes which I caught; I guarded his house from thieves. My master was fond of me. When offered a carriage and horses he refused to sell me. But now, when I am old and weak and can neither run nor bark, he has led me out here and tied me to the fence to stay till some man kills me for my skin. This is the world's reward."
The peasant, seeing that he had lost his case, begged to look for another judge. The snake consented and they went through forests and across fields till they came to an old half-starved horse. His head was hanging down, his sides had fallen in, and he was covered with flies which he had not strength to drive away.
"How are you, noble beast?" asked the peasant.
"As you see," replied the horse.
The peasant told him the story and begged him to decide for them.
The horse listened patiently to the man's complaint, then decided in favor of the snake, saying, "This is the world's reward. "When I was young," said he, "I had every comfort. When I was led out of the stable every one admired me. I carried my master to war. More than once, by my swiftness, I saved his life and helped him to fame. Two men cared for me; they curried me twice each day and gave me the best of oats and hay. My stable was like a parlor. In summer they covered me with a net that flies might not bite me. My master wouldn't have sold me for a whole village. But when I grew old he starved me, didn't even give me straw to eat. And now he has led me out to this barren field to be killed by the wolves. This is how the world pays best."
"What more do you want, man?" asked the snake.
The peasant begged the snake to let him try a third and last judge. He consented and they went on till at the edge of a forest they saw a fox, running along.
"Oh, Master Fox, wait and be our judge!" called the peasant. "We have a question to decide."
The fox, a cunning fellow, listened to the story, then winked to the peasant, and whispered, aside, "If you will give me all of your hens I will help you out of your trouble."
"What are hens!" said the man. "I will give you the geese too, and if need be all I have in the world."
The fox, pretending to be an impartial judge, said, "This is an important case: one of life and death. The first who judged, judged lightly. In justice the case can only be decided on the spot where everything took place. We will go there."
When they came to the place, the fox said, "We must begin at the beginning. Do you, man, sit down on the stone, and you, snake, crawl into the hole where you were lying."
When they had done as he told them, and the snake was back in the hole, he winked at the man, and said, "Roll the stone over, quickly."
The peasant didn't wait to be told twice. When the hole was covered, and the snake couldn't get out, the peasant thanked the fox for salvation from death.
The fox answered, "But do not forget that I have earned the hens. Tomorrow before daylight, I will come for my breakfast."
The peasant went home as delighted as if he had been born a second time. He told his wife what had happened, praised the wisdom of the fox, and added that he had promised him all the hens, and that the next morning he would come for them.
The woman was glad that her husband was saved, but she was very sorry to lose her hens. The next morning, early, she went to the window and seeing a fox in the yard she called to her husband, "Do you hear, old man? There is a fox in the yard!"
"Oh, that is the fox that saved me. He has come for the hens!"
"Just as if I were crazy enough to give him my hens!" cried the woman. "The Lord be praised that you are alive; but take the gun and kill the fox. You will get good money for his pelt."
The peasant obeyed his wife. He took the gun and firing from the window killed the fox.
Dying, the fox said in a mournful voice, "This is how the world pays best."
Once upon a time, when King Solomon the wise ruled over the people, some shepherds gathered under a tree and lit a fire, not for any special reason, but just to pass their time, as they often do. When they left, they did not take care to put the fire out. It was left burning under the ashes. Spreading slowly, it caught the great tree, which soon afterwards became a mass of living flames.
A snake had crept onto that tree before and found itself now in danger of perishing in the flames. Creeping upwards to the very top of the tree, the snake cried as loud as it could, for she felt her skin scorched by the fire.
At that moment a man passed by, and hearing the shrieking of the snake, who begged him to save her from the flames, he took pity on her, and cutting a long stick, he reached with it up to the top of the tree for the snake to glide down on it. But he did not know the mind of the cunning beast, which had aforetime deceived his forefather Adam, for, instead of gliding down to the ground, no sooner did the snake reach the neck of the good man than she coiled herself round and round his neck.
In vain did he remind her that he had saved her life. She would not hear of anything, for she said, "My skin is dearer to me than to you, and I remain where I am. You cannot shake me off."
Finding that he could not get rid of the snake, the man went from judge to judge, from king to king, to decide between them, but no one could help him. At last, hearing of the wisdom of King Solomon, he came to him and laid his case before him.
But King Solomon said, "I am not going to judge between you unless you both first promise to abide by my word." Both did so.
Turning to the snake, King Solomon then said, "You must uncoil yourself and get down on the earth, for I cannot judge fairly between one who is standing on the ground and one who is riding."
Cunning though the snake may be, she did not understand the wisdom of King Solomon, and therefore, uncoiling herself, she glided down and rested on the ground.
Turning to the man, King Solomon said, "Do you not know that you must never trust a snake?"
The man at once understood what the king meant, and taking up a stone, he bruised the snake's head. And thus justice was done.
Brer Rabbit was walking down the road, talking and laughing to himself, when he heard something. He stopped talking and began to hum a tune, but he didn't meet anyone. Then he stopped and listened, and he heard something holler, "Oh, Lordy! Lordy! Won't somebody come and help me?"
Brer Rabbit heard this, and he stopped and listened. It wasn't long before something or the other hollered out, "O, Lordy, Lordy! Please, somebody, come and help me."
Brer Rabbit, he hoisted up his ears, he did, and he answered back, "Who are you, anyhow, and what in the name of goodness is the matter?"
"Please, somebody, run here!"
Brer Rabbit, he took and stood on three legs to make sure of getting a good start if there was any need of it, and he hollered back, "Whereabouts are you, and how come you are there?"
"Do, please, somebody, run here and help a poor miserable creature. I'm down here in the big gully under this here big rock."
Old Brer Rabbit crept down to the big gully and looked in, and who in the name of goodness do you suspect he saw down there? -- Nobody in the round world but that there old Brer Wolf was down there in the big gully. And, bless gracious, on top of him was a great big rock. And if you want to know the reason that the great big rock hadn't totally killed Brer Wolf, then you'll have to ask someone who knows more about it than what I do, because it looks to me like it should have smashed him flat.
Yet there he was, and not only had he not been killed, but he had strength enough left to make folks a mile off hear him hollering. And he was hollering so lonesome that it made Brer Rabbit feel might sorry, and no sooner was he feeling sorry, than he held his coattails out of the way and slid down the bank in order to see what he could do.
When he got down there, Brer Wolf asked him, please, sir, couldn't he help him remove that there rock. And Brer Rabbit allowed he suspected he could. And with that, Brer Wolf hollered and told him for mercy's sake, wouldn't he hurry and do it. With that, Brer Rabbit took hold of the rock and humped himself, and it wasn't long before he got some purchase on it, and bless your soul, he lifted it up, just like someone at log-rolling.
It turned out that Brer Wolf wasn't hurt much, and when he found this out, he took and grabbed Brer Rabbit by the nap of the neck and the small of the back.
Brer Rabbit, he kicked and squealed, but it didn't do any manner of good, because the more he kicked, the tighter Brer Wolf clamped him, and he squeezed him so hard that Brer Rabbit was afraid he was going to cut off his breath.
Brer Rabbit, he allowed, "Well then, Brer Wolf! Is this here the way you thank folks for saving your life?"
Brer Wolf grinned big, and then he up and allowed, "I'll thank you, Brer Rabbit, and then I'll make fresh meat out of you."
Brer Rabbit allowed, he did, "If you talk that way, Brer Wolf, I'll never do you another good turn as long as I live."
Brer Wolf, he grinned some more, and allowed, "That you won't, Brer Rabbit. That you won't. You won't do me any more good turns until you are dead."
Brer Rabbit, he sort of studied to himself, he did, and then he allowed, "Where I come from, Brer Wolf, it's against the law for folks to kill those that have done them a good turn, and I suspect it's against the law around here as well."
Brer Wolf said he wasn't right sure about that. Brer Rabbit said he was willing to leave the whole case with Brer Terrapin, and Brer Wolf said he was agreeable.
With that, they put out, they did, and made their way to where old Brer Terrapin was staying. When they got there, Brer Wolf, he took and told his side, and then Brer Rabbit, he took and told his side. Old Brer Terrapin put on his spectacles and cleared up his throat, and then he allowed, "Something is mixed up in this here dispute, and before I can take any side, you'll just have to take me to see the place where Brer Wolf was when Brer Rabbit found him," he said.
Sure enough, they took old Brer Terrapin down the big road until they came to the big gully, and then they took him to where Brer Wolf got caught under the big rock. Old Brer Terrapin, he walked around, he did, and poked at the place with the end of his cane. By and by he shook his head, he did, and he allowed, "I hate mightily to put you gents to so much trouble, yet there are no two ways about it. I'll have to see just how Brer Wolf was caught, and just how the rock was lying on top of him," he said. "The older folks get, the more trouble they are," he said, "and I am ripening just like a persimmon that's been struck with the frost," he said.
Then Brer Wolf, he took and lay down where he was when Brer Rabbit found him, and the others, they up and rolled the rock on top of him, and there he was. Brer Terrapin, he walked all around and looked at him. Then he sat down, he did, and made marks in the sand with his cane like he was studying about something or the other.
By and by Brer Wolf, he opened up, "Ow, Brer Terrapin! This here rock is getting mighty heavy!"
Brer Terrapin, he marked in the sand, and studied, and studied.
Brer Wolf hollered, "Ow, Brer Terrapin! This here rock is mashing the breath out of me."
Brer Terrapin, he reared back, he did, and he allowed, "Brer Rabbit, you were in the wrong. You didn't have any business to come along and bother Brer Wolf when he wasn't bothering you. He was tending to his own business, and you ought to have been tending to yours."
This made Brer Rabbit look ashamed of himself, but Brer Terrapin talked right along, "When you were going down this here road this morning, you surely must have been going somewhere. If you were going somewhere, you had better be going on. Brer Wolf, he wasn't going anywhere then, and he's not going anywhere now. You found him under that rock, and you should leave him under that rock."
And bless gracious, those creatures walked off from there and left old Brer Wolf under that there rock.
Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised March 30, 2013.